We were staying in San Antonio Suites, a hotel pretty close to the Plaza de Armas and the centre of town. The first night we got in pretty late, so we just went for a walk around town and (somehow) managed avoiding being attacked by all the maniac kids in the streets with carnival silly string. We got a tasty dinner and a free pisco sour each and had a relatively early night.
The next morning we got picked up at about 6:30am for a tour to the Uros floating islands and Tacquile Island on the lake.
The Uros floating islands are completely made from the totora reeds and their roots, which grow in the lake around Puno. The islands are literally floating (we got shown the anchor ropes). The Uru people have been living on the lake as fisherman and hunters since before the time of the Incas, and their lives completely revolve around the totora reeds. They use the reeds to make a new island every 25 or so years, but as the islands are compressed by foot traffic they are constantly being added to. The reeds are also eaten, used as fuel for cooking stoves and turned into boats.
100 years ago the Uru people would have made absolutely everything from the reeds, including huts on the floating islands. Everything else that they needed (clothes etc) would have been traded with other civilisations and then the Incas. Nowadays due to the influx of tourism dollars and the close proximity of the large city of Puno, they have access to plenty of other cheap and light building materials such as corrugated tin to make more watertight houses from. They can also buy small dinghies with outboard motors to get around on the lake - much easier than rowing a totora reed boat. There are also 2 floating primary schools on the lake so that young children can easily attend school without having to travel into Puno. Many islands also have solar panels and satellite dishes so that they can watch TV or power some lights at night.
Whilst the influx of tourism dollars here has certainly changed their lifestyle somewhat, it is still worth a visit to the floating islands to have a look at a different way of life and to see how the Uru people are moving into the 21st century.
Next stop - Taquile Island.
The Taquile people live primarily as farmers growing maize, beans and other crops on the island, as well as farming sheep and cattle. The men in the community also have an interesting history as knitters. Everyone on the island always wears traditional colonial dress, with the men’s clothes kind of making them look like matadors and the women wearing multiple skirts and long black shawls over their heads.
Their clothing and it’s decoration also represents their marital status - men wear different coloured hats and women have different sized and coloured pompoms on their shawls depending if they are married or single. They also sell plenty of these awesome coloured hats, scarves and belts at a communal store set up on the Plaza de Armas in the centre of the island.
It was an interesting day out on the lake and certainly worth the stop at both places if you are in Puno.
The next morning we checked out and got on a 6 hour bus to the next stop - Arequipa and the Colca Cañon.